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A fundamental limit to the search for the oldest fossils

Life emerged from and amidst non-living phenomena that already possessed some of the hallmarks now used four billion years later to recognize fossil organisms. It may be next to impossible to distinguish the earliest signs of life against this background. What can we still learn from fossil-like materials on the early Earth and elsewhere?

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Fig. 1: The pseudofossil problem in relation to the earliest organisms.


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S.F.J. acknowledges support from ‘la Caixa’ Foundation (ID 100010434) and from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska Curie grant agreement no. 847648. The fellowship code is LCF/BQ/PI21/11830015.

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S.M. conceived the study. Both authors drafted and edited the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sean McMahon.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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McMahon, S., Jordan, S.F. A fundamental limit to the search for the oldest fossils. Nat Ecol Evol 6, 832–834 (2022).

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